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Utes jump-start season

All U. newcomers complete opening day in great shape

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It didn't take Utah coach Kyle Whittingham long to evaluate his troops.

"This football team is right where we need to be at this point," Whittingham said after the Utes' first practice. "... So far, so good."

After the veterans scored 100 percent on their conditioning test, Utah's coaching staff put the program's newcomers through their initial practice at Ute Field.

"We think this is a very good freshman class overall. It's the first time we've ever gone through the first practice where we had everyone finish," Whittingham said. "Every single player out here finished this first newcomer practice.

"We've always had something happen to a few guys," he added while noting that injury and fatigue have taken a toll in the past. "It's the first time we've all made it through."

A good omen? Perhaps.

But there's more to it.

Fourteen newcomers, including 13 freshmen, spent the summer training in Salt Lake City. They attended school (six credits), lived in the dorms and participated in the football program's summer conditioning sessions.

"I think that gave them a big head start. It's a big advantage for them both physically and academically," Whittingham said. "It's something we'll hang on to and continue to do in the future."

Athletic director Chris Hill is credited with providing the resources for the Utes to implement a situation that several other programs in the nation utilize.

"We just made the decision last offseason that it would be to our advantage to do this,' Whittingham said. "Chris Hill has been very supportive and we couldn't do it without his backing."

Enrolling newcomers in school over the summer and putting them in the dorms requires extra funding. And if the first day of fall camp is any indication, the payoff made be immediate.

"Definitely. This group is further along than they have been in the past," Whittingham said. "It's for that reason."

This year's participants included junior college transfer Matt Sims, as well as freshmen Neli A'asa, Joe Dale, Justin Jones, Pauli Latu, Mookie Murphy, Caleb Schlauderaff, R.J. Stanford, Stevenson Sylvester, Zane Taylor, Nano Tonga, Kenton Thomas, Walter Watts and Zeke Wily.

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen agrees with Whittingham's assessment that Utah's newcomers will benefit from the program.

"It's a huge advantage from the standpoint of just getting in shape and understanding the level of intensity," he said.

Whittingham noted that the newcomers aren't the only beneficiaries. He's extremely pleased with how Utah strength and conditioning director Doug Elisaia has prepared the entire team.

"Doug Elisaia did a fantastic job in the offseason with the summer program," Whittingham said. "Our players bought into his system."

And the Utes have done so with great passion and dedication.

"This is our best conditioning yet," said senior Eric Weddle. "It was tough. It was extremely hard, but we busted it out and we're ready to roll it out in camp. It'll pay off."

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com